All good parents want their kids to succeed, but let's be honest--parenting is a long, hard road and regardless of your intentions, you'll never do a perfect job of it. Fortunately, the relationship between kids and parents is well-studied and researchers are perpetually learning more about what parents can do--or not do--to help their children blossom. Here are four incredibly common parental behaviors which experts say aren't good for kids in the long term.
They offer large portions of food
Overweight people are less likely to be hired, often stereotyped as being lazy and more likely to be considered unqualified for leadership positions. And parents can play a big part in whether or not their kids end up with a healthy body mass index. Researchers at Penn State provided meals and snacks to 46 3- to 5-year-olds in two five-day periods. In the first period, they provided the kids with a baseline amount of food, and in the second period increased the portions by 50 percent. During both periods, the children were able to eat as much or little as they desired, and afterward the leftover food was weighed. It turns out that in the second period, when the kids were offered more food, they ate an average of 16 percent more food, resulting in 18 percent more in calories.
They protect them from stressful situations
Seventy percent of children with anxiety whose parents participated in a study conducted at Yale University reported having no anxiety at the study's end. The parents--not their anxious children--participated in therapy wherein they learned skills to push their kids to face their fears instead of protecting them from fears. The parents were taught to make their kids feel heard, say things to build their confidence, and tell them they can tolerate their anxiety and don't need to be rescued from it.
Researchers have found that this parental behavior is similar to spanking, psychologically speaking, and results in higher levels of anxiety, stress, and depression, as well as an increase in acting out in children. Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale, suggests a different approach called the ABCs, short for antecedents, behaviors, and consequences. It involves telling your kid exactly what you want them to do ahead of time, and modeling that behavior yourself. When they do what you ask, you need to praise them in some kind of goofy or lavish way which gets their attention, and include a hug or affectionate shoulder squeeze as the final touch. Parenting podcaster Stephen Marche, writing for The New York Times, explains it this way:
The ABC method of praise is a highly specific technique. You have to be effusive, so you actually have to put a big dumb smile on your face and even wave your hands in the air. Next thing is you have to say, in a very high, cheerful voice, exactly what you're praising. And then the third part is you have to touch the child and give him some kind of nonverbal praise. The silliness is a feature, not a bug. It makes the kid notice the praise that accompanies correct behavior.
This approach makes sense, and anyone can see it's more likely to result in the kinds of positive behaviors you're looking for in your children. But it takes forethought, and resisting the easy way of reacting negatively when kids don't do what you want.
They read electronic books with them
Reading with kids helps them develop language and reading skills and bond with parents, but not all book formats are equal. Researchers from the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital have determined that when reading print books together, parents and young children talk more and have higher quality interactions, compared with electronic versions of the same stories. They studied 37 pairs of parents and their 2- or 3-year-olds in a simulated living room, where they read books with different formats--print, basic electronic, or enhanced electronic, with additional features such as sound. Parents asked more open-ended questions of their kids when reading print books, compared with the other two formats. Apparently, tapping, swiping, and talking about the device itself serve as distractions which pull kids away from the story.